Case Digest: Solidbank v. Gamier, et al.

G.R. No. 159460 : November 15, 2010

SOLIDBANK CORPORATION (now known as FIRST METRO INVESTMENT CORPORATION), Petitioner, v. ERNESTO U. GAMIER, ELENA R. CONDEVILLAMAR, JANICE L. ARRIOLA and OPHELIA C. DE GUZMAN, Respondents.

G.R. No. 159461

SOLIDBANK CORPORATION and/or its successor-in-interest, FIRST METRO INVESTMENT CORPORATION, DEOGRACIAS N. VISTAN AND EDGARDO MENDOZA, JR., Petitioners, v. SOLIDBANK UNION AND ITS DISMISSED OFFICERS AND MEMBERS, Respondents.

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

FACTS:


During the collective bargaining negotiations, some Union members staged a series of mass actions against petitioner. Secretary Laguesma, assuming jurisdiction over the labor dispute, resolved all economic and non-economic dismissing the unfair labor practice charge against Solidbank Corporation.

Dissatisfied with the Secretarys ruling, the Union officers and members decided to protest the same by holding a rally infront of the Office of the Secretary of Labor and Employment in Intramuros, Manila, simultaneous with the filing of their motion for reconsideration. As a result of the employees concerted actions, Solidbanks business operations were paralyzed. The herein 129 individual respondents were among the 199 employees who were terminated for their participation in the three-day work boycott and protest action.

Respondents Gamier, Condevillamar, Arriola and De Guzman filed separate complaints for illegal dismissal and were consolidated before Labor Arbiter Potenciano S. Cazares, Jr. Respondent Union joined by the 129 dismissed employees filed a separate suit against petitioners for illegal dismissal, unfair labor practice and damages assigned to Labor Arbiter Luis D. Flores.

Labor Arbiter Potenciano S. Cazares, Jr. dismissed the complaints of Gamier, Condevillamar, Arriola and De Guzman. Labor Arbiter Luis D. Flores rendered a decision in favor of respondents Union and employees. NLRCs Second Division rendered a Decision reversing the decision of Labor Arbiter Flores. As to respondents appeal, the NLRCs Third Division reversed the decision of Labor Arbiter Cazares, Jr.

G.R. No. 159460

Petitioners argued that the CA erred in holding that the mass action infront of the Office of the Secretary of Labor was not a strike considering that it had all the elements of a strike and the respondents judicially admitted that it was a strike. The CA deemed the mass action as an exercise of the respondents freedom of expression but such constitutional right is not absolute and subject to certain well-defined exceptions. Moreover, a mass action of this nature is considered a strike and not an exercise of ones freedom of expression, considering further that the Secretarys Order is a valid exercise of police power.

G.R. No. 159461

Petitioners contend that the CA erred in ruling that the dismissal of respondents Gamier, Condevillamar, Arriola and De Guzman was illegal, considering that this was not an issue raised in the petition for certiorari before the appellate court. What was raised by petitioners was only the propriety of the award of separation pay by the NLRC which in fact declared their dismissal to be valid and legal.
ISSUES: 
Whether or not the protest rally and concerted work abandonment/boycott staged by the respondents violated the Order of the Secretary of Labor? 
Whether or not the respondents were validly terminated? 
Whether or not the respondents are entitled to separation pay or financial assistance?

HELD:

LABOR LAW


Article 212 of the Labor Code, as amended, defines strike as any temporary stoppage of work by the concerted action of employees as a result of an industrial or labor dispute. A labor dispute includes any controversy or matter concerning terms and conditions of employment or the association or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing or arranging the terms and conditions of employment, regardless of whether or not the disputants stand in the proximate relation of employers and employees. The term "strike" shall comprise not only concerted work stoppages, but also slowdowns, mass leaves, sitdowns, attempts to damage, destroy or sabotage plant equipment and facilities and similar activities. Thus, the fact that the conventional term "strike" was not used by the striking employees to describe their common course of action is inconsequential, since the substance of the situation, and not its appearance, will be deemed to be controlling.

It is explicit from the directive of the Secretary in his January 18, 2000 Order that the Union and its members shall refrain from committing "any and all acts that might exacerbate the situation," which certainly includes concerted actions. For all intents and purposes, therefore, the respondents staged a strike ultimately aimed at realizing their economic demands. Whether such pressure was directed against the petitioners or the Secretary of Labor, or both, is of no moment. All the elements of strike are evident in the Union-instigated mass actions.

The right to strike, while constitutionally recognized, is not without legal constrictions. Article 264 (a) of the Labor Code, as amended, provides:

Art. 264. Prohibited activities. (a) x x x

No strike or lockout shall be declared after assumption of jurisdiction by the President or the Secretary or after certification or submission of the dispute to compulsory or voluntary arbitration or during the pendency of cases involving the same grounds for the strike or lockout.

The Court has consistently ruled that once the Secretary of Labor assumes jurisdiction over a labor dispute, such jurisdiction should not be interfered with by the application of the coercive processes of a strike or lockout. A strike that is undertaken despite the issuance by the Secretary of Labor of an assumption order and/or certification is a prohibited activity and thus illegal.

Article 264 (a) of the Labor Code, as amended, also considers it a prohibited activity to declare a strike "during the pendency of cases involving the same grounds for the same strike." There is no dispute that when respondents conducted their mass actions on April 3 to 6, 2000, the proceedings before the Secretary of Labor were still pending as both parties filed motions for reconsideration of the March 24, 2000 Order. Clearly, respondents knowingly violated the aforesaid provision by holding a strike in the guise of mass demonstration simultaneous with concerted work abandonment/boycott.

The foregoing shows that the law makes a distinction between union officers and members. For knowingly participating in an illegal strike or participating in the commission of illegal acts during a strike, the law provides that a union officer may be terminated from employment. The law grants the employer the option of declaring a union officer who participated in an illegal strike as having lost his employment. It possesses the right and prerogative to terminate the union officers from service.

However, a worker merely participating in an illegal strike may not be terminated from employment. It is only when he commits illegal acts during a strike that he may be declared to have lost employment status. We have held that the responsibility of union officers, as main players in an illegal strike, is greater than that of the members and, therefore, limiting the penalty of dismissal only for the former for participation in an illegal strike is in order.Hence, with respect to respondents who are union officers, the validity of their termination by petitioners cannot be questioned. Being fully aware that the proceedings before the Secretary of Labor were still pending as in fact they filed a motion for reconsideration of the March 24, 2000 Order, they cannot invoke good faith as a defense.

The award of backwages is a legal consequence of a finding of illegal dismissal. Assuming that respondent-union members have indeed reported back to work at the end of the concerted mass actions, but were soon terminated by petitioners who found their explanation unsatisfactory, they are not entitled to backwages in view of the illegality of the said strike. Thus, we held in G & S Transport Corporation v. Infante.

It can now therefore be concluded that the acts of respondents do not merit their dismissal from employment because it has not been substantially proven that they committed any illegal act while participating in the illegal strike. x x x

With respect to backwages, the principle of a "fair days wage for a fair days labor" remains as the basic factor in determining the award thereof. If there is no work performed by the employee there can be no wage or pay unless, of course, the laborer was able, willing and ready to work but was illegally locked out, suspended or dismissed or otherwise illegally prevented from working. While it was found that respondents expressed their intention to report back to work, the latter exception cannot apply in this case. In Philippine Marine Officers Guild v. Compaa Maritima, as affirmed in Philippine Diamond Hotel and Resort v. Manila Diamond Hotel Employees Union, the Court stressed that for this exception to apply, it is required that the strike be legal, a situation that does not obtain in the case at bar.

PARTLY GRANTED

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